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The reality is that, even if you live in a major city where you might find a legitimate Tantra master (male or female) near you, your most likely first instruction will be a weekend workshop or short course, with a number of other people or couples. While many of these workshops are, at best, a good introduction, they can be, at worst, emotionally fraught, even damaging. These workshops and teachers need to be approached with the same kind of consumer awareness you would use to consider a major purchase and the same intuitive and emotional discernment you use to identify trustworthy friends.
So where do you start? Before you begin, decide what KIND of Tantra you want to study. There are two fundamental choices:
- NEO-TANTRA, the westernized version, uses Tantric techniques to help enhance, heal or change relationships, offering much the same approach and same kind of help that is offered by the thousands of self-help programs and books available, with the added element of the sexual aspects. This is what most people in the West know about and what they mean when they talk about Tantra, and what most choose to pursue.
- TRADITIONAL TANTRA, based on ancient principles, handed down primarily in oral tradition from teacher to student for thousands of years, has many branches, all proceeding from Tantra as a spiritual practice and way of life. It is a philosophy, a way of approaching living. There are branches that maintain celibacy, just as there are branches that include sexual practice.
Many teachers combine these two fundamental approaches, weighing in more on one end of the spectrum or the other. You need to decide what your personal path is and follow it. There is nothing wrong with trying a number of different teachers –in fact it’s a good idea– until you find the one that “clicks” for you.
After more than thirty years of pursuing Tantra, I’ve learned a few KEY factors to examine when you’re looking for a Tantra workshop or course to try.
- First and foremost, MEET the teacher before signing up for a weekend workshop. If a short (1-3 hours) event, titled something like “Introduction to. . .” or “A Taste of . . .” is offered, take it. Your monetary loss will be minimal if s/he does not offer what you want to learn. If there isn’t a brief introduction offered, arrange an appointment of about 20 minutes with the teacher. Be willing to pay a fee if necessary. It’s worth it.
Your objective is to determine whether you trust this person, whether you feel s/he can help you relax and experiment in a roomful of people, and whether you feel that the person has a real knowledge of the subject or is mainly blowing smoke. Unfortunately, at least half of the Tantra “experts” out there are woefully unqualified.
- Second, CHECK OUT the teacher’s claims about qualifications If their own teacher or organization is cited, contact them and verify your prospective teacher’s claims. If no credentials or instructors are cited, ask for the names of students who are willing to talk to you about their experiences. Do a web search on Dogpile (searches many engines at one time), and see what you can find about the teacher and his/her organizations.
If you can’t find anything, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teacher is unqualified, but it might mean that s/he is not very experienced. This is all right, if you know it beforehand and don’t mind. Often new teachers are more careful, more meticulous and more willing to work with you individually. I started with an apprentice teacher, and it was a good learning experience for both of us.
- Third, AVOID inflexible teachers and programs. By this I mean, do not sign up for a rigid, stepped program that requires you to take courses in a defined sequence and denies you the opportunity to change the order, omit a topic, take a topic twice or otherwise digress from a pre-set series.
If you find a teacher or organization that is completely inflexible, ten to one they are more interested in collecting your money than in giving you appropriate instruction. A good Tantra teacher (actually, a good teacher of anything) assesses a student’s work and progress and gives the student appropriate challenges and instruction as the student learns. A good teacher can do this as well in a course with many students as in a course with two students. A teacher who offers a one-size-fits-all course and ignores individual students’ needs is either lazy or unqualified or both.
- Fourth, ASK QUESTIONS about the workshop. How many couples will participate? What material will be covered? Will we get individual attention? Will issues possibly come up? Is there someone there to handle emergencies?
In other words, find out if you will be comfortable in the environment of the workshop. In my experience, a workshop with more than ten couples is too big; but the fact is that many introductory or basic skills workshops have as many as 40 couples. What you need to think about is how inhibiting it will be for you to be intimate in a room full of people. Granted, each couple will be self-contained and self-absorbed; but Tantric practice, even in the beginning, can reveal things, to others as well as to you, that you may not recognize before you begin. So don’t waste your money by putting yourself in a situation where you can’t learn because you’re not comfortable.
- Fifth, YOU BEGIN WHERE YOU ARE in Tantra. If you are in therapy, if you have body issues, if you were abused as a child, if you overuse or misuse drugs (including tobacco and alcohol), if your marriage is in trouble— any of these can affect what happens in Tantra practice and be magnified or altered by it. If the Tantra teacher does not ask about these things when you apply to take the workshop, BEWARE.
A responsible teacher will want to know about any of these factors in your life. If you have problems, they go right with you to a Tantra workshop. If you’re “in a good space,” it is enhanced at a Tantra workshop. I’ve seen quite a few awakenings, both positive and negative, during Tantra practice. The workshop teacher ought to be able to address anything that happens.
- PREPARE for a Tantra course. You’re not going on a holiday. You’re going to a place, both physical and emotional, where you can relax and learn. How much you learn is directly related to your ability to be open, objective and honest with yourself about whatever you feel, think and experience in the workshop.
Do some reading in advance. Take an extra day off from work the day before your workshop starts and take the time to relax, unwind, do extra meditation or reading, connect with your partner and generally drop the stresses that occupy us all most of the time. Be ready to relax into Tantric practice.
- Finally, RELAX, BE RECEPTIVE AND ENJOY THE WORKSHOP.